Soap Box:  The Confederate Battle Flag

April 23, 2001

Update:  June 23, 2015

NOTE:  Given the fact that the Confederate battle flag has been in the news lately, I thought it a good time to revise/update this article.

The Confederate battle flag seems to stir up a lot of controversy and emotional passion. There are several flags that represented the Confederacy, but the one pictured above is the most well-known. If you are to believe the news reports, the protesters, and all the politicians clamoring for a microphone, the Confederate flag is a racist symbol and offensive to most black Americans. South Carolina use to fly the flag above their capitol until protests and boycotts, led by the NAACP, got the state to lower it and place it in a less prominent location.  Now they are trying to get it removed from the second location after a racist murderer used the flag in some of his pictures.  There have also been some states that have changed or have considered changing their state flags because they contain a portion of the Confederate flag. Mississippi voted 2 to 1 to actually keep their state flag as it is, with a Confederate flag in the corner.

So, is the Confederate flag evil and racist? Is it flown as a sign of white supremacy? Well, to let the cat out of the bag so you can determine whether or not to hate me, I'll say that the Confederate flag is not a racist symbol and anyone should have the right to fly it, Southern states included.

First of all, for those of you offended by the Confederate battle flag, are you offended by the flag shown directly above?  No?  Why not?  Itís the flag that first represented the actual Confederacy (which the battle flag did not). 

What about the Georgia state flag?  It was directly derived from the Confederate flag.  The reason you donít find offense at these is that you havenít been told yet that you should also be offended by this flag, thus it means nothing to you.  This should be an enlightenment that itís not the actual symbol thatís the problem, but the instead the person behind the symbol.  Hate the hater, not the flag he waves.


To drive the point home, consider the images of KKK marches above.  Notice the flags they are carrying?  Thatís right, itís the American flag.  So why arenít people offended by the American flag?  Racists were waving them around during their marches.  Itís because the flag is only a tool.  Itís not evil or racist until itís used in that manner.  And if itís used in another manner, it represents whatever the user wants it to.

The Confederate battle flag wasnít always seen with such despise as it is today.  During WWII, some military units had Southern nicknames and used the Confederate battle flag as an emblem.  The Confederate Navy Ensign was even flown from the USS Columbia.  A Confederate flag was raised after the Battle of Okinawa.  And quite a few pictures from the Vietnam War show the Confederate flag flying.  There were no protests and complaints back then over the flag.  Remember the television show called the Dukes of Hazard?  The show ran into the mid-1980s.  They had a car named General Lee and it had a big Confederate flag painted on it. No one seemed to complain then.  When I worked at Microsoft in the early to mid-1990s, I had a United States flag and a Confederate flag on my office wall. No one complained about it at all.  It was seen as part of my Southern background and culture, just like the other objects that people put on their walls and desks.

So why is the Confederate flag seen as such as negative symbol today?  It is true that it represented the Confederacy, or more precise, the Confederate troops/ships.  And the Confederacy was pro-slavery.  But if that was the main opposition to it, youíd think people would have been up in arms about it many decades ago.  We've only seen protests and very vocal opponents in recent years.

I see it mainly as people trying to a) stir up trouble and grab the limelight, b) major knee-jerk reaction, and c) political correctness run amok.

Let's discuss the first point. Some people and groups need attention and controversy. They thrive on it. It gives them power and gives them a "cause" to fight.  I think that was the case with the initial boycott of South Carolina. I've heard quit a few famous people speak out against South Carolina. But they weren't speaking out until larger groups got involved. Why weren't they "offended" years ago? It's like someone had to inform them that they were being "offended" before they realized it. Protesting the Confederate flag is now seen as a noble gesture.  They are fighting to stamp out this "evil" symbol of past oppression.  I see it as an attempt for fame and power.  Some people need the attention.  If it wasn't for the flag, they wouldn't be noticed.  And many politicians do it for the votes.

The second point has been caused by genuine hate groups. Unfortunately, groups such as the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and others have adopted the Confederate flag as their symbol. When they fly it, it gets associated with the crap and hatred they spew forth. And when we see and hear about racial discrimination and violence, we immediately react to it, whether or not the reaction is valid or needed. The illogical assumption is to assume the Confederate flag is bad because a bad group uses it.   And as weíve seen, they also use the American flag too.  Is the American flag bad because bad people use it?  Of course not!

The third point is seen day in and day out, and not necessary with just the Confederate flag. Zero drug policies are suspending kids because they brought Tic-Tacs to school. Fingernail clippers are seen as dangerous weapons. We see people getting sued left and right over trivial stuff. Society as a whole seems to go out of its way to make sure no one is ever offended by anything. So if the Confederate flag offends someone, they take it down. They seem to forget that the first amendment gives you freedom of expression, but doesn't guarantee that you will not be offended by something at some point.

As I was raised in rural North Carolina, from the 1960s on up, the Confederate battle flag represents Southern culture and pride to me.  And it was originally flown to represent the Confederate States of America troops, not to send a statement about blacks or slavery.  The flag has never been a racist symbol, even though it has been used by some racists.  Itís a symbol of the American South.  Iíve seen it on trucking companies, sugar companies, and a variety of other businesses.  Were these businesses racists, or sending a negative message to black people?  No!  It was just a symbol to show they are a product of the South.

When I fly the Confederate flag, which I do occasionally from the stern of my boat, I'm saying that I'm a Southerner and I'm proud of that fact. I like the culture of the South.  What culture is that?  The laid back culture that puts family, friends, honesty, and integrity front and center.  The culture that supports the United States of America, no matter which political party may be in office.  The culture that says to help your fellow man, without the regard for a reward or payment.  Itís a culture thatís fast disappearing.  I remember someone stopping to help me when I ran out of gas during the 1980s.  Today, you might become of a victim of a crime if you run out of gas.  Perhaps the loss of our Southern culture is why people canít look beyond the flag and consider the person flying it.

I would love to display the Confederate flag like I use to do in the past.  I wouldnít mind flying it every now and then on the front of my house.  But because I fear what negative response I may get, I shamefully let my first amendment right be trampled upon. There's no reason why the Confederate flag cannot represent to everyone what it represents to me. Currently the swastika is a banned symbol in Germany and generally seen anti-Semitic. Yet before the Nazis came along, it was a good symbol. If this good symbol can now be "bad", there's no reason why the Confederate flag canít go from a supposedly "bad" symbol to a good symbol.  People need to get beyond seeing an object as racist when itís not used in that manner.   The object represents what the person using it wants it to represent.  Nothing more.

Jeff Polston

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